Friday, June 6, 2014

Going Off Script

The other day, I responded to a comment by saying that some public school teachers are afraid to think outside the box.

As homeschoolers, we already think outside the box. Homeschoolers are brave. So the idea that other educators would be afraid to think outside the box, to deviate from the mandated/scripted curriculum, is probably pretty perplexing.

But the reason many teachers follow the script is so they’ll have documentation they did so. Teachers are evaluated on a list of “elements” so long that it would take me a month’s worth of blog posts to detail them all. And while homeschool educators evaluate ourselves, public school teachers are evaluated by administrators who determine who is effective and ineffective. So it's documentation, documentation, documentation.

(There have been lots of complaints that teachers get “tenure,” which is not true; teachers go from probationary to permanent, but permanence does not mean permanent. It does not mean you get to laminate your lesson plans, prop your feet up on your desk, and read a newspaper, while your students answer questions at the end of a textbook chapter. As a permanent teacher with good evaluations, I was made to change subjects (from English/history to math/science). Then, I was – due to budget cuts – pink-slipped (and rehired) a couple of years in a row. Finally, three years ago, I was “displaced” from my first school, because my school’s population had decreased by about a hundred students, and I had the least seniority of all the 6th grade teachers. (Two of my 6th grade teacher-colleagues from my first school retired this year.)

How we’re evaluated…

Teachers must demonstrate that they know each subject they teach – and for elementary teachers, that means Reading, English Language Development Reading, Writing, English Language Development Writing, Listening, English Language Development Listening, Speaking, English Language Development Speaking, Math, Science, Health, Social Studies, Physical Education, and Arts (Visual, Performing, Dance, Music).

We must also show we know how the subjects within each discipline relate to each other, and integrate with each other. For example, in math, I need to know how algebra is related to and integrates with geometry, and I need to show that I know this.

We must show we understand the pedagogy of each subject we teach. For example, we must show we know effective ways to teach writing, based on research into writing pedagogy. The “effective” teacher uses technology, shows an understanding of 21st Century skills, and must show she has anticipated the misunderstandings students will have during lessons. Also, we must show we have an “extensive, current, and accurate knowledge of how” the students we teach learn (age group/development). And we can’t forget those 21st Century skills!

Teachers need to track each students’ “skills, knowledge, and language proficiency” and demonstrate the use of this data in lesson planning, and planning for intervention (remediation). We must also collect information about each students’ special needs to plan and accommodate. On top of that, we must use our students’ interests, families, and cultural heritages to plan our lessons, as to “encourage” students.

I had 33 students this year, and am evaluated as to whether or not I meet the needs of ALL of them. I am with them for one year. Only one year. And only from the hours of 8:20 a.m. to 2:44 p.m.

As parents, we know our children. We are with them from birth. We don’t have to learn their names each year, do ice breakers so they will – hopefully – like us each year, have them fill out questionnaires about their likes and dislikes each year. (This topic is worth a post of its own.)

I’m summarizing these “elements” from a 35-page booklet, and I’ve only discussed through page 6 so far.

So, when I say some teachers have a fear of going off script, I hope this helps begin to show why.


  1. Wow. Yes, this really helps a lot. At the very least, even if a teacher is naturally brave, it sounds like going off script is a lot of hassle!

    Which makes me all more amazes at what you are trying to do. :)